MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) – Police released three rights activists whose detention earlier Friday sparked protests and clashes with police, a defense lawyer said.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to control a crowd of hundreds in Sanabas, a town northwest of Bahrain’s capital, Manama, said Abdul-Jalil al-Singace, a spokesman for the Haq rights group.

The tear gas drifted into a hospital in Jedhafas, a village next to Sanabas, causing discomfort for the patients, said town legislator Abdul-Jalil Khalil. There was no report of casualties.

The demonstration was sparked by the detention of Hassan Mushaima’a, the leader of Haq; Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja, the head of the Bahraini Center for Human Rights; and Shaker Abdul-Hussein, an independent activist.

Defense lawyer Abdulla al-Shamlawi said they had been released without bail, adding that the lack of bail showed the government wanted to “calm down the situation.”

Haq is an opposition movement seeking democratic reform and greater rights for Shiite Muslims in Bahrain. The government refuses to recognize it, and considers both it and the Bahraini Center for Human Rights as illegal organizations.

The Interior Ministry said the three would be charged with “promoting change to the political system through illegitimate means, inciting hatred of the political system, agitation and harming the public interest.”

During the Shiite commemoration of Ashoura on Monday and Tuesday, al-Khawaja made a speech that criticized the government and Haq ran a street kiosk that gave a digital display on issues such as the victims of Bahrain’s unrest in the mid-1990s.

Ministry spokesman Mohammed Bu-Humod said the government had “documented pictures and recorded speeches made by the accused during Ashoura which aimed at splitting national unity.”

Ministry spokesman Mohammed bin Deena said there were about 400 demonstrators, but their protest ended “peacefully.” He made no mention of tear gas or rubber bullets.

However, a reporter for The Associated Press went to the scene after the statement appeared and saw that police were continuing to fire tear gas at the demonstrators, who were throwing stones and setting tires on fire.

There was also rioting in Daih, a village next to Sanabas, where about 150 people threw stones at the police, who fired tear gas in response.

Police had blocked roads leading to the protests, preventing reporters from getting to the scene. But black smoke could be seen rising from the area, and witnesses said tires and garbage containers had been set on fire.

Shiites make up about 60 percent of Bahrain’s population, but the ruling family is Sunni Muslim. Shiites have long complained of discrimination.

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